Few checks on the first day it is mandatory to show a negative PCR to cross the French border
Alt Empordà Council and local businesses fear new measure will damage local economy even further
La Jonquera / PortbouThe old border booths located between Portbou and Cervera had been useless for years, beyond bringing back memories of the past. However, with the arrival of covid-19 and the subsequent mobility restrictions, the old police buildings had to be dusted off in order to control everyone crossing the imaginary line. France established weeks ago that you had to show a negative PCR test result to enter the country and Spain announced a similar measure by surprise on Saturday which has come into force today. However, the new measure has not been noticeable in two of the main entry points by road: in La Jonquera, the National Police made some random checks during the morning, but in Portbou there was free way to go and return; neither on the Spanish nor on the French side were there any officers to control the passage of vehicles, motorcycles and people.
As published in the BOE on Saturday, all travellers who want to enter the state by road will have to prove that they are not infected, as happens when travelling by plane. Only residents living within 30 kilometres of the border, cross-border workers and hauliers are exempt.
"Good morning, could you show me your identity cards? Where are you going?", an agent of the Spanish national police asks a family in French. They are travelling by car and have been stopped in front of the checkpoint located on the French side of the old border on the Nacional II, on the way to Pertús. They are residents of Agullana and, therefore, are allowed through without having to show a negative PCR test result.
It is half past ten in the morning and the French agents have been checking vehicles crossing since early morning. On the Spanish side, on the other hand, only two cars of the National Police have been seen stopping for a moment, before explaining that by mid-morning a unit would arrive to check whether the travellers had been tested. On the other hand, where agents have been seen is at exit 1 of the AP-7, where controls have been made at some times of the day.
But where no police, neither French nor Spanish, have been seen all morning is in the old booths located on the road between Portbou and Cervera. There, cars, motorcycles and bicycles could cross from both sides without any officers checking travellers. "They hardly ever come here to check cars. At most you see a car of the National Police that goes up, stays ten minutes, and comes down. And the French officers only come from time to time," says Paula, who works on the road linking the two towns.
In fact, the only state workers that have been seen throughout the morning and midday, both in La Jonquera and Portbou, have been two employees of the National Institute of Statistics: at each border point there was an identified worker who stopped the vehicles to ask them a few questions for a survey on tourism.
A blow to the economy of Alt Empordà
The requirement to present a negative test to cross the border caught shops in Alt Empordà by surprise, who hoped that the mobility planned for Easter would help them to revive an economy badly damaged by the anticovid restrictions. "Since last year, many fewer French come over than before covid, and now with this PCR ... even fewer will come!" lamented Enric, who is in charge of one of the supermarkets in La Jonquera and that gives voice to the fear most establishments in the area have, as their main customer base is across the border.
In fact, the president of the Alt Empordà Council and mayor La Jonquera, Sònia Martínez, believes that it will be a "blow to trade". "The new restriction makes it even more difficult to revive the economy," admitted Martinez, who criticised the fact that she learned of the new measure "through the press" and that locals are "never consulted" before making such decisions. In this sense, the member of the Association of Traders in the center of La Jonquera, Isabel Vera, added that the rules should take into account "the idiosyncrasies of the territory": "Catalunya Nord and Alt Empordà are constantly doing trade".
Although the new restriction is similar to the measures adopted by the French state, it is a new obstacle for family and commercial relations between neighbours living near the border who, since the arrival of covid, have seen how the imaginary line became, once again, a difficult barrier to cross.